Explain the technical and economic significance of the problem itself, giving readers relevant historical context.

Start your 2196 design document with an illustrated title page, according to these guidelines:

  • Avoid using the built-in Insert-Cover Page option of MS Word if it limits what you need to say, as described in this checklist (e.g., making your title or subtitle adequately specific). Also avoid using Word’s cover page if your paper will need to be merged with those of other authors.
  • Use mostly bold, tastefully sized “display” fonts on the title page; but do not use any built-in header styles (Heading 1, etc.), since that would cause items to appear in the table of contents.
  • Identify the course by its number, name, and section. Be sure to identify yourself as the author; if there’s a team, list members in alphabetical order by last name. Show an accurate date of the document, and update this date with each submission to avoid confusion.
  • Make the title clear, specific, distinctive, and concise, as illustrated by the following examples:
  • Construction of an Earthquake-Resistant Mid‑rise Building in Los Angeles
  • Designing Locally Manufacturable Low-Cost Devices for Arsenic Removal from Ground Water in Bangladesh
  • Preparing for Post-Hurricane Temporary Bridge Replacement in Areas with Unstable Soil Conditions

While written in an understandable style, these titles are worded carefully both to support keyword retrieval and to help potential readers determine the relevance of the document. The Abstract, described on page 17, has a similar dual objective.

Note that the above titles each suggest an engineering project, rather than just a “paper.” Also, each title is ambitious but modest; there are no grandiose terms such as “revolutionary.”

Your title, while specific, should be broad enough to cover all three of your candidate solutions. If a project is later funded, its title can then be made more precise.

  • Add a subtitle only if necessary. Do not punctuate between the title and subtitle on the title page; instead, reduce the font size of the subtitle and put it on a separate line.

Note: In the References list, APA format uses a colon (:) to separate a title from its subtitle, regardless of how the source’s title page was formatted.

  • Illustrate the title page with an attractive picture or diagram that usefully captures some relevant aspect of the topic. Add a caption if some explanation is called for, but do not use a figure number on the title page; you can refer to this artwork as “the title page illustration” if necessary. But if readers will need to view the same illustration with detailed explanatory text later in the document, repeat the figure there with a numbered caption.
  • Credit the source of the illustration, in small letters below the artwork on the right-hand side. If the source is listed in References for another reason, credit it with an APA-style author-date citation (omitting the parentheses). If that source is used only for illustration(s), give a URL or similar informal reference. If you created the illustration yourself, use  Source: Author   as the credit; in this case, the word “Author” refers to you.
  • Count the title page as page 1, but suppress numbering on that page. The pagination discussion on page 9 explains how to do this.


The abstract is a concise preview that helps potential readers retrieve the document from a database and then assess the likely relevance of the document to their interests.

In ENGR 2196, the abstract should be the very last text you write, since it summarizes the whole document. (In Senior Design, however, early versions of the abstract may play an additional role in gaining approval for the project; your SD instructor will guide you on that special usage of the abstract.)

For purposes of ENGR 2196 writing, here are guidelines for writing and formatting the abstract:

  • Substantive content. The abstract expands on your document title and should concisely summarize the document’s core points. Do not use the abstract as a general introduction to the topic.

Some journals favor indicative abstracts (also called descriptive abstracts), which tell about a document’s subject but don’t “give away” specific facts or numbers. But design documents and other project documentation should use informative abstracts, which do summarize important specifics — to the extent possible within the word limit.

For ENGR 2196, the abstract should

  • Summarize the project’s problem or challenge, objective(s), and scope.
  • Mention the specific candidate solutions you analyzed, and concisely justify your choice of a proposed solution.
  • State briefly how the project, if successful, would contribute to applicable broader objectives (organizational, societal, environmental, etc.).
  • Like the document title, the abstract should include technical key words that would aid retrieval of the abstract, yet still be at least roughly comprehensible to nonspecialists.
  • Keep your abstract precisely within the range of 150–200 words (not including the header word “Abstract” and not including the “document scenario” that follows). Don’t guess; select the text of the abstract in MS Word, and then check the word count on the status line.
  • Writing style and format. Style the abstract as plain text without any graphics, footnotes, cross-references, or structured lists (e.g., bullets). Also try to avoid writing the abstract in a way that would require source citations.
  • Paragraph breaks. Use paragraph breaks as needed to improve the readability of your abstract. Be aware, however, that abstract database systems usually squeeze out such breaks. Therefore, try to word the start of each new paragraph in a way that clearly shows the change of topic.
  • When merely describing the contents of a document, an abstract should use present tense. Also use present tense to describe relevant scientific laws, physical facts, and other matters viewed as constant; but use tenses accurately in referring to historical-current-future events. To avoid serious potential technical and legal problems, also use tenses accurately in describing project activities and results; that is, use future tense for proposed activities, continuing-present tense for ongoing activities, and past tense for completed results.
ENGR 2196 Document scenario

Unless your ENGR 2196 instructor directs otherwise, provide a “document scenario” in a boxed note on the lower half of the Abstract page. Positioning this note on the Abstract page clearly establishes this critical contextual information before the reader encounters the Executive Summary and Problem Statement. Use the scenario box to describe

  1. A specific organization, or type of organization, for whom one might coauthor such a design proposal. Like the title, the scenario should suggest an engineering project, not just a “paper.”
  2. The kinds of technical and executive audiences to whom the document would likely be directed.

Figure 1 illustrates the kinds of information to supply.

Your choices in composing the document scenario should be reflected in the content you write for several other parts of the document, notably the Executive Summary (especially its fourth paragraph) and the Problem Statement subsections on Overall Analysis and Objectives and Implications of Project Success. For example, an engineering consulting company might be looking to widen the scope of its consulting business, a product vendor might want to increase its market share, and a government organization might want to maintain its level of service despite budget cuts.

ENGR 2196 document scenario: This document proposes an engineering design project to provide an improved system for separating oil from storm water. I envision the document as an in-house proposal prepared for a government organization responsible for municipal water treatment, specifically the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). The technical proposal would be reviewed by engineers from PWD and affiliated organizations. The Executive Summary would be read by business managers and municipal officials who would need to fund the project.

 ENGR 2196 document scenario: This document proposes an engineering design project to provide an integrated, passive safety system that makes it virtually impossible, when exiting a car, to forget that children or certain other at‑risk occupants are still in the car. I envision this design document as a proposal submitted by a start-up company to automobile manufacturers. The technical proposal would be reviewed by engineers from the manufacturer, along with engineers from its key suppliers. The Executive Summary is oriented to business managers of the automobile manufacturer.

 Figure 1. Example ENGR 2196 document scenarios

Executive Summary

In COE’s Senior Design program (and specifically in ENGR 2196), the design document initially represents the proposal stage of an engineering project. If the project is approved, the design document evolves into a working record of the project and finally into an archival record. At each stage, the Executive Summary provides a relatively nontechnical overview of the design document for business executives.

In ENGR 2196, write the Executive Summary after you complete the Problem Statement.

In the proposal stage, executives may decide whether to support your project largely on the basis of this summary, so make it as self-contained and compelling as you honestly can. It’s also important that an executive summary conform precisely to any specifications, which for SD are currently as follows:

  • Appears before the table of contents.
  • Consists of exactly four paragraphs, without subheads, as described in Table 2. Do not explicitly number the four paragraphs. You may use bullet lists within a paragraph.
  • Fits on one single-spaced page. For SD, the summary should just fill the page. For ENGR 2196, the summary can be a little shorter, since it summarizes only a partial document.

Table 2. Executive Summary: required content of its four paragraphs

Para. Content description Sources
1 Summarize at a high level the challenge the project aims to meet; quantify the challenge if possible. Aim (in the executive summary) to motivate support for your project — not for your specific technical approach. Get info for this paragraph from the Overall Analysis and Objectives and Historical and Economic Perspectives subsections of the Problem Statement.
2 Identify key design requirements and constraints, and describe in quantitative terms the technical challenges of the project. Using “quantitative terms” does not mean guessing at final numbers in the proposal stage; it means using terms that can later be quantified where appropriate. In ENGR 2196, get from various subsections of the Problem Statement. In SD, also draw on the Design Requirements section.
3 Briefly explain your technical design for executives, describing how it will deliver required functionality while meeting key design constraints. Don’t dwell on technical or implementation details, but do briefly describe and justify any significantly novel aspects of your approach.

Note: In later stages of the project, after extensive testing, this paragraph will summarize any changes needed to make the project work.

In ENGR 2196, get from Candidate Solutions and Proposed Solution in the Problem Statement.
In SD, draw on the Engineering Approach section.
4 The last part of the executive summary realistically touts the project’s potential for accomplishment:

q  Immediate business impact if successful

q  Possible broader impact, if any (e.g., new uses or new markets enabled)

q  Social-environmental contributions, if any

Any serious reservations about these impacts should be acknowledged frankly for executive consideration. Reservations may relate to business matters, social-environmental impacts, etc. Bear in mind that a new design can be disruptive — including to the business model of the company that initiates it.

In ENGR 2196, get from Implications of Project Success in the Problem Statement. In SD, also draw on the Summary section.

Problem Statement

The Problem Statement section starts by exploring both technical and nontechnical aspects of the project’s problem or challenge. This exploration requires both library-database research and thoughtful analysis of the problem. Your Problem Statement should

  • Tell a coherent and consistent story
  • Address the reviewer questions listed in Table 3 below
  • Enable reviewers to easily find your sources

As the analytical foundation of your project, the Problem Statement should be persuasive to technical and managerial reviewers — but not by glossing over difficulties. On the contrary, you should make it compelling by fairly and systematically addressing likely reviewer questions. Table 3 lists the required subsections of the Problem Statement and some likely reviewer questions each part should address.

Table 3. Problem Statement: anticipating likely reviewer questions

Required subsections Likely reviewer questions each part should answer
Introductory text after Problem Statement header What’s this whole Problem Statement section about?
Initial Problem Description Basically, what is the problem you’re proposing to solve, and why should we care?
Overall Analysis and Objectives What are your overall project objectives — technical and nontechnical — and what makes them significant? What justifies the project?

Based on a more detailed analysis of the problem, what types of engineering solutions seem applicable? Which one do you want the project to focus on?

Historical and Economic Perspectives What historical events and economic developments influence (a) the current importance of solving the problem and (b) the practicality of the type of engineering solution you advocate?
Candidate Solutions For the type of engineering solution you advocate, how do three specific candidate solutions work? How do they compare?
Proposed Solution Based on the preceding comparison and other relevant factors as well, what is your reasoning for selecting (usually) one candidate as the proposed solution for this project? Also, are there additional characteristics of the proposed solution we should be aware of before approving it?
Major Design and Implementation Challenges What do you foresee as the major challenges of designing and implementing this proposed solution?
Implications of Project Success If we fund the project, what quantitative and other measures can we later use to measure its success? If the objective is achieved, what other outcomes (positive and perhaps negative) should we anticipate?

Remember, however, that in a complete design document the 2196 Problem Statement would be only the first major section. Later sections of a full Senior Design document focus on the detailed design, implementation, testing, and refinement of the proposed solution. Therefore, do not burden the 2196 Problem Statement with premature details that properly belong in those later sections.


Initial Problem Description

Use this subsection to explain just enough about the problem so that readers can understand the upcoming Overall Analysis and Objectives section — and just enough about the problem’s importance so that they want to read on.

Overall Analysis and Objectives

The Overall Analysis and Objectives subsection seeks to help the reader better understand and approve of your overall project and the type of solution you recommend. To accomplish these goals, do the following:

  • Define your main engineering objective, which should be to solve the problem you just posed in the Problem Statement’s introductory text (or at least a part of the problem).

Be careful to avoid grandiosity in your objectives. For example, just making an engine run cooler can be a worthwhile objective; don’t insist that your project will by itself solve the problem of global warming.

For many projects, the overall objective will legitimately include several sub goals. It is common for goals to be somewhat “in tension,” but be wary of incompatible goals. For example, don’t promise a lower price for a proposed product upgrade with new luxury features.

  • To gain reviewer approval for the project, justify its objectives. The reasons you give for this might be technological, commercial, environmental, etc.
  • Next, based on a closer analysis of the problem, survey the types of engineering solutions that seem applicable. Do not prematurely discuss the three specific candidate solutions that you will later compare. Recommend one type of solution on which the project (and the rest of the design document) should focus.

If the initial formulation of the problem is already focused on one type of engineering solution, you can abridge this part of the analysis. But you should still tell your reviewers enough about other kinds of solutions so that they can see the context of your ideas.

Historical and Economic Perspectives

Put your problem and upcoming solutions into context by providing a background historical and economic overview. In all cases, make appropriate mention of important nontechnical issues, including ethical, environmental, and social justice concerns.

  • Explain the technical and economic significance of the problem itself, giving readers relevant historical context. (Don’t waste your readers’ time with irrelevant text, data, or graphics. For example, a proposal relating to ultraviolet screening by sunglasses should not go into detail about the history of sunglasses as fashion items.)
  • Since you’ve narrowed the scope to solutions of a particular type, educate your readers about the history and economics of such solutions. That will prepare readers to better understand your description and assessment of specific candidate solutions. Don’t needlessly distract your readers with historical or economic details of other types of solutions.
  • If applicable, provide a market analysis (size, revenues, price, etc.) and competitive product analysis. This analysis is of secondary importance, however, especially in ENGR 2196.

Candidate Solutions

In this subsection of the Problem Statement, describe three specific solutions to the problem your project is addressing. Compare these solutions in an open-minded way, so as not to prematurely settle on a possibly inferior solution.

As explained in the Getting Started guide, your candidate solutions should be comparable, in that all three solutions can be assessed by similar technical criteria. The rows of the comparison table at the end of this subsection will refer to those criteria (along with applicable nontechnical criteria).

In this subsection, include the following:

Note: Your instructor or SD advisor may approve changes to suit the details of your particular topic.

  • For the type of solution you’re focusing on, briefly describe known solutions that you will not be discussing as candidates. These may be
  • Viable solutions that you just didn’t select as one of your candidates
  • Historically or currently proposed engineering solutions that you don’t regard as viable
  • Non-engineering solutions such as procedural changes or training programs

Mentioning non-engineering alternatives may have relevance for cost-benefit analysis, and it may also inspire design improvements.

  • Next, discuss your specific candidate engineering solutions (three in ENGR 2196). Use a Heading 3 subhead to identify the discussion of each candidate solution.

Describe and explain each candidate solution in enough detail so that reviewers can see how that solution distinctively addresses the problem as previously analyzed. Using consistent criteria (as applicable), evaluate each solution’s advantages (pros), drawbacks (cons), and design tradeoffs.[1]

In addition to strictly technical criteria, compare the solutions with regard to relevant issues of ethics, social justice, environmental impact, regulatory compliance, alignment with technology trends, etc.

  • Conclude the subsection with a carefully designed table that concisely compares the candidate solutions with respect to the criteria just discussed. As a summary, this comparison table should not include new information. The comparison should be the main basis for your justification of one candidate as the Proposed Solution in the next subsection.

In most cases, the comparison table should follow these guidelines:

  • Set up the table with four columns, and enough rows for your evaluation criteria (plus one extra row for column headers).
  • Assign columns 2, 3, and 4 to the three candidate solutions. In the top row, label each column with a short descriptive name for the solution (not “Solution 1”).
  • Skipping the top-left corner of the table, use column 1 to label the rows with your criteria for evaluating the solutions. List technical criteria first, then nontechnical.
  • Fill in the rows with information from your discussion of the three solutions. Make this information easy for your readers to use:
    • Don’t lump together different criteria as “pros” and “cons”; doing that burdens the reader with puzzling out the actual points of comparison.
    • Word the row “stubs” (labels) in a way that minimizes the text or data in each table cell. But keep units of measure inside the cells if needed to avoid confusion.
    • When feasible without risking confusion, express data values for different criteria in a way that consistently makes higher values more desirable.
    • Try to group or sequence the rows to show logical relationships or importance.
    • For additional guidance on table design, captioning, and cross-referencing, see page 14.

Proposed Solution

Based on the preceding subsection, formulate your proposed solution as follows:

  • Of your three candidates, propose one that you think the design team should focus on if the project is approved and funded. (If your proposed solution combines aspects of different candidates, be sure this is not due to needless overlap between the candidates.) If approved, the proposed solution will be the exclusive focus of all later sections of the Problem Statement.
  • Referring to the discussions or comparison table in the preceding subsection, defend your proposed solution by explaining how it addresses the overall objective, requirements, and constraints to the extent already known. Do not offer vague, unsupported justifications, e.g., describing a candidate as “the most technologically advanced.”
  • Previous descriptions of the three candidates focused on differentiators — information that would support a choice between the solutions. Now that you have a favorite, describe any additional details that will bear on the implementation challenges described next. Do not, however, delve into engineering or testing details that properly belong in later sections of the full SD document.

Major Design and Implementation Challenges

Concisely describe serious hurdles to be overcome in designing and implementing your proposed solution. Learn of such challenges from readings, analysis, and reviewer comments.

  • First describe the challenges in nontechnical terms (to accommodate any executive readers).
  • Then provide a more detailed technical formulation of the major challenges.

Include only design and implementation challenges that any team would have to overcome. Challenges due to your team’s lack of knowledge or experience, outside commitments, interpersonal issues, or other such difficulties are not appropriate to discuss in the design document.

Implications of Project Success

Describe what may realistically be expected to happen if your project is successful. (Even for a successful project, some implications may be undesirable.) Style this as a businesslike projection, not a world-changing manifesto. Address the following topics:

  • Implications of the product or method itself
  • Business implications for your organization (consistent with the document scenario you described in the box below the Abstract)
  • Implications, if any, to the overall market
  • Environmental, social justice, and similar issues


Ask your instructor if a glossary is optional or required in your design document.

By adding a glossary to your design document, you can help ensure that all your target readers will understand exactly what you mean by specialized terms. Nontechnical executives and client reviewers are the most obvious beneficiaries of a glossary, but technical readers whose expertise is in another field may need assistance as well. A glossary will also be helpful if you coin any new terms. Perhaps most importantly, a glossary can reduce confusion when a technical term is used in a way that differs from common parlance, or when the same term is used with different meanings by different specialists.

Some otherwise excellent model documents have missing or inadequate glossaries. In your own design document, aim for a well-constructed glossary as follows:

  • Within the text, alert the reader to the glossary by mentioning it in a footnote to the first defined term in the document.
  • Define only topic-specific technical terms. Don’t define ordinary terms that should be common knowledge to all your readers, since doing so might insult them. However, define terms with multiple meanings if readers might be unsure which meaning is intended in the document.
  • If you find it necessary to coin a term, explain that, so the reader doesn’t go looking for a source.
  • For existing terms, derive each glossary entry from definitions in authoritative sources. Try to tailor each glossary entry to make it relate specifically to your design topic. It will often be appropriate to combine several definitions into one. Exclude irrelevant information.
  • Enclose in quotation marks any parts of a definition that are quoted from a source. (Block indent the quotation instead if it runs ≥40 words.)
  • Cite definition sources by inserting MS Word footnotes within the glossary. Insert the footnote right after the term being defined. Do not include sources used only for definitions in the References list. If a glossary source happens to be in your list of References anyway, just give an APA-style author–date citation in the glossary footnote; otherwise, give a short informal reference such as a URL, or if necessary an APA-style reference list entry.
  • Define each term at the most logical location in the document text as well, rather than relying on the reader to look at the glossary. Usually this location is the first use of the term; if not, include a forward cross-reference to the in-text definition or to the glossary, as appropriate.


References and In-Text Citations

Take source crediting and reference listing seriously, so as not to ruin an otherwise good report. Apart from being a major academic violation, failure to properly credit sources impairs the work of reviewers and could lead your organization to inadvertently infringe a patent or copyright.

Checking source usage and crediting

Before each submission, check the entire document, including appendices, as follows:

  • Make sure all statements that are based on sources — whether summaries, paraphrases, or quotations — are properly credited to the appropriate entry in the reference list.
  • All source references should be based on your study of the source itself (at least in relevant part), not just an abstract of the source. Never quote from an abstract.
  • Make sure your main References list includes only entries that correspond to at least one in-text citation in the body of the document. This strict requirement of APA differs from some other source documentation systems.
  • Move entries not referenced by an in-text citation to a supplementary list titled Additional Sources Consulted or the like. But don’t list a source at all if you didn’t actually use it.
  • Make sure any quotations are
    • Justifiable – not used to avoid doing your own analysis or to bulk up your document
    • Marked as quotations (by quote marks if under 40 words, otherwise by block indention)
    • Precisely transcribed from the source
    • Not taken out of context (i.e., not giving an impression contrary to the source’s intent)
    • Accurately cited, including a page number if available
  • Make sure all your summarizing and paraphrasing from sources is
    • Substantively accurate
    • Consistent with the source
    • Accurately cited, with a page number if that will help the reader find your exact source
    • Thoroughly rewritten (vs. a near quote)

Tip for avoiding plagiarism: The following technique is strongly recommended if you are not yet fluent in paraphrasing (most students are not). In your first draft, use properly marked and cited quotations rather than paraphrasing. Then, in your second draft, paraphrase the quotations, unless there’s a good reason to keep them as quotes. Keep the citations, but convert the quoted text to hidden text (a font format option). Later, by exposing hidden text (via the ¶ tool), your instructor or Writing Center tutor can easily compare the two versions  and advise you if more extensive restyling is needed.

APA format required

For ENGR 2196, as for Senior Design, the References list and corresponding in-text citations must follow current APA format rules (6th edition, 2010). We do not use APA for other format guidance.

Do not superimpose footnote numbers or other features of different documentation systems on your APA references and citations. (Do use footnotes for sources in the Glossary, however; see page 24.)

General guidance on the construction of APA reference lists and in-text citations is available from many sources. APA rules do have some quirks, which Table 4 (starting on page 26) will help you negotiate.

Table 4. References: how APA list entries compare with parenthetic in-text citations

  Reference list entries Parenthetic in-text citations
How many Exactly one per cited source. At least one per cited source.
Basic format, sequence, and location Horizontal: Give each entry a half-inch hanging indention.

Vertical: Sort list entries alphabetically by the surname of the lead author. APA provides detailed guidelines on alphabetization, but we can just sort the entries alphabetically with MS Word; this will also effectively sort by the second and subsequent authors of coauthored sources.

Sort entries for the same author (or identical list of group authors) chronologically, from oldest to newest. The MS Word sort will automatically do this if you format entries consistently.

Don’t use blank paragraphs to space between entries, since those blank paragraphs would be shifted to the start of the list by the MS Word sort. Instead, control spacing with paragraph formatting.

An APA citation identifies the source of a text passage by the last name of the author and the date of publication. Include a page number if appropriate. Enclose the entire citation in parentheses. Don’t number an APA citation, since the reference list is sorted by author and date.

Within a citation, use commas to separate the author, date, and page number. To cite several sources within one citation, use semicolons to separate the sources.

Typically, place the citation at the end of the cited material, as detailed below. Alternatively, you can put part or all of an APA citation in the text that introduces the passage. You can also scatter citations within a passage to make it clear which parts of the passage are based on each source.

For a paraphrase, a summary, or a short (<40 words) quotation: Format the source-derived passage as part of your regular text (same font, margins, etc.). Then insert the citation before the ending period, even if this seems illogical. For example: “A shock wave was probably generated when the northwest leaf centerlocks mated with the southwest leaf” (Studney, 1992, p. 51).

Note: To preserve readability, keep a concluding question mark or exclamation point with the cited passage, disregarding the APA rule.

For a long (40 words) quotation: Block-indent the quoted passage ½ inch without quotation marks (other than any included within the quote). Put the citation after the final punctuation of the quoted text.

Author surname & Initials Each author’s last name appears first, followed by a comma and his or her initials. List all authors up to seven. For eight or more authors, list six names followed by a comma and ellipsis (, …) and then the final name.

Initials are used instead of an author’s first and middle names: period after each initial, space between initials. This was APA’s attempt to reduce gender discrimination. Omit degrees and suffixes such as Jr.

If there is no author, use an abbreviated title in the author position to support alphabetical lookup.

If the middle of the reference entry alludes to an edited collection in which the source appears, show the editor names with initials in normal position.

No initials in the citation, unless needed to avoid confusion between authors. (Exception: Do use initials for a personal communication citation if there is no lookup location to provide in References. Place these initials in normal position, since the name is not being sorted.)

In the first citation for any source, list up to five authors. For a source with six or more authors, name the first author and then just add et al. (no comma). For sources with two authors, use the format (Author1 & Author2, Date) for all citations. For sources with three or more authors, use the format (Author1 et al., Date) for citations after the first.

Note: The abbreviation et al. stands for Latin et alia (meaning “and others”). Don’t precede this abbreviation with a comma and don’t italicize it, but do end it with a period.

Commas & Ampersand Use the comma and ampersand together (, &) before the final co‑author — even (in the reference list) if there are just two authors. In a citation with exactly two authors, use the ampersand without a comma. Do use the comma before the ampersand in a citation with three or more authors.
Date Usually list just the year of publication. Enclose the year in parentheses, adding a period after the parentheses. If the publication has no date, use “(n.d.).” The date must match the reference list entry — including n.d. if the entry indicates there’s no date. In a full parenthetic citation, use a comma to separate the author from the date.

If the author’s name has just been given in text, cite just the date.

Titles & Subtitles Use a colon (:) to introduce a subtitle, even if the source used another method. In the title and again in the subtitle, capitalize only the first letter, except for words or abbreviations that you’d normally capitalize anyway. If the reference list used a short title in the author position (for lack of an author), use the same short title in the citation, together with the date as usual. Make sure the reader can find the citation alphabetically in the reference list.
Italics The periodical name is italicized and followed by a comma. Use each journal’s official abbreviation. The volume number is also italicized.

Don’t italicize the issue number; enclose it in parentheses abutted to the volume number (no space).

Note: Presumably to save space in journals, APA 6th edition (2010) says to omit the issue number if pagination is continuous across issues. But keeping the issue number aids your readers by speeding reference lookup.

No italics in citations.
Page numbers The page number or range is given without “p.” or “pp.” Omit page information when the citation is to the overall source. When the citation is for a quotation or otherwise relates to a specific page or range, give the page number(s) with “p.” or “pp.”


Section 4. Review Checklists

Use the first checklist in this section early in your research and writing, to avoid common developmental errors. Use the second checklist later to catch common execution errors.

Avoid common developmental errors in your design document

As you draft, revise, and edit your design document, try to avoid the common errors listed in Table 5:

Table 5. Common errors in developing a technical document

Failing to outline. Forgoing this step almost guarantees that your team’s drafts will have gaps, overlaps, and inconsistencies.

Drafting in an illogical order. Don’t procrastinate by writing an introductory essay full of generalities. Write the hard technical parts first, then introduce them succinctly.

Locking in to a specific solution too early in the Problem Statement. Don’t put the cart before the horse by prematurely committing to a specific solution.

Over-relying on popular sources. Be sure to base your technical analysis and writing mainly on peer-reviewed scholarly and professional sources. Popular journalistic, commercial, and Web sources frequently suffer from fragmentary coverage, factual inaccuracies, misinterpretations of scientific findings, commercial or ideological bias, and many other types of error.

Ignoring substantive discrepancies. If factual claims or expert opinions in your sources contradict each other, don’t ignore the problem. If you cannot resolve an inconsistency, alert the reader to it. Also make sure you don’t introduce your own inconsistencies.

Glossing over information gaps or analytical difficulties. Candidly identify information items you still need to find, plus any design or implementation problems you still need to solve. Don’t hide uncertainties by omitting coverage or by resorting to vagueness or equivocation.

Making unsupported assertions. Back up factual claims by citing current, credible sources and by using logically valid arguments. Note that merely repeating a claim does not support it.

Diluting your accomplishment with fluff or fancy rhetorical flourishes. Instead use a clear, structured technical style. Edit out grandiose claims of the project’s importance, irrelevant facts, and unnecessary repetition, as well as expressions of personal taste. All of these detract from your research-based analytical writing.

Under- or over-explaining. Make sure readers get the background information they need, but don’t dwell on facts or ideas that are surely familiar to them. If some readers do need basic explanations, organize the text so that experts can easily skip those basics.

Failing to quantify. See the discussion of quantification in Part 3 of this writing guide (Misc. Readings on Design Documentation).

Check final document for common execution errors

The following final checklist can help you detect common execution errors in your completed document. Use the checklist as a proofing aid, not as a substitute for working with the detailed specifications and checklists in this guide. Most of these errors relate to format, though a few common substantive errors are also mentioned. All these errors make a 2196 document less “responsive to specs,” so it’s important to correct them.

  • Critical global errors:
    • Plagiarism: Text, tables, or figures based on a source but not credited to that source.
    • Plagiarism: Quoted text not enclosed in quote marks or block-indented.
    • Plagiarism: Close following of a source’s outline without attribution.
    • Uncorrected spelling or grammar errors, especially if numerous or confusing.
    • Page numbers missing; not automated; or set up for different right-left pagination but with even numbers on right side of page.
    • Automatically numbered, descriptive captions missing from figures or tables.
    • Table of contents, figure-table lists, captions, and cross-references — not updated.
  • File:
    • 2196 design document not contained entirely in one MS Word file.
    • File not named per instructor directions.
  • Title page:
    • Vague or misleading title.
    • Illustration missing.
    • Source not cited.
    • Course information missing.
  • Headers and subheads:
    • Based on obsolete version of writing guide or old model document.
    • Missing required headers.
    • Level-two Problem Statement subheads don’t exactly match prescribed subheads.
    • Errors in header level, wording, or spelling.
  • Abstract: Length out of range.
  • Executive Summary:
    • Not divided into four paragraphs.
    • Incorrect type of content in some paragraphs.
  • Table of contents, list of figures, list of tables:
    • Not fully automatic (requires editing if updated).
    • Incorrectly lists Abstract, table of contents itself, list of figures, or list of tables.
    • Errors in a header’s level, wording, or spelling (reflecting error in header itself).
    • Incorrectly includes individual figures or tables.
    • Doesn’t list Executive Summary, Glossary, or
  • APA parenthetic in-text citations:
    • Not correct APA format for citing authors.
    • Missing APA-required commas, dates, and (where appropriate) page numbers.
  • Problem Statement:
    • Missing header.
    • Missing introductory text.
    • Superfluous “Introduction” subhead.
  • Historical and Economic Perspectives: Superficial or irrelevant information in.
  • Candidate Solutions:
    • Superficial descriptions.
    • Failure to summarize candidates in a comparison table.
    • Lumping together misc. pros and cons in comparison table, rather than using a separate row for each evaluation criterion.
  • Design and Implementation Challenges: Doesn’t distinguish the two kinds of challenges.
  • Implications of Project Success: Shallow or inappropriate information.
  • Glossary:
    • Missing altogether.
    • Doesn’t start on new page just before References.
    • Skimpy number of definitions, or sketchy content of definitions.
    • Definitions not appropriate for and tailored to document audience.
    • Sources of information for definitions not cited.
    • Quoted definitions not shown as quotes.
    • Entire glossary copied from sources.
    • Every glossary-defined term footnoted in text, rather than just the first such term.
  • References:
    • Doesn’t start on new page.
    • Format of entries doesn’t follow APA rules: author-date based, hanging indention , etc.
    • Entries not sorted correctly.
    • Paragraph breaks within entry.
    • Incorrect section header (References) or header level.

[1] Usage notes: The word criteria is plural; the singular form is criterion. Also, a disadvantage of a solution is not a “downfall”; it is a drawback.

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